Hillary Clinton’s Foreign Policy Resumé: What the Record Shows1 2 3 4 5
“Very competent, very professional, very intelligently moving towards the center, very shrewdly and effectively serving on the Armed Services Committee.”
— Rep. Newt Gingrich, referring to fellow committee member Hillary Clinton, April 2005
“She ran the State Department in the most effective way that I have ever seen.”
— Henry Kissinger, referring to Hillary Clinton, Sept. 9, 2014
“Her so-called foreign policy ‘experience’ has been to support every war demanded by the US deep security state run by the military and the CIA.”
— Jeffrey Sachs, referring to Hillary Clinton, Feb. 5, 2016
Yes of course, one has to acknowledge it. Barring an indictment, or the surfacing of some extremely embarrassing Goldman Sachs speech transcripts before July, Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee and Bernie Sanders a historical footnote of yet indeterminate significance.
Then—unless scandal hits her between July and November (which Trump could exploit mercilessly), or her cell phone electrocutes her in the shower—Hillary will become the next Commander-in-Chief. People should of course ask themselves and others what that will mean to them and the world. Here are some suggestions about what may be in store.
Hillary sells herself to the electorate first and foremost as a woman, whose time has come. The first woman president to follow the first Black president. A woman who has fought for women, girls, children and families—including especially people of color—all her life. That’s her brand. As required she identifies as liberal and progressive, and she has campaigned as these in the contest with Sanders.
(Sanders’ campaign indeed has drawn hers “towards the left,” in terms of her slick shift from supporting a $ 12 to $15 minimum wage—effectively parodied on Saturday Night Live—and her position on the TPP agreement, calling it the “gold standard” of trade agreements in a public speech in 2012 but opposing it suddenly last November.)
But Hillary—have you noticed?—doesn’t much boast of her actual performance in her main executive position to date, that of as Secretary of State between 2009 and 2013. That is, she doesn’t crow about what she achieved as the person mainly in charge—under the president—of U.S. foreign policy during those years.
You remember those years, don’t you? The “surge” in Afghanistan; the winding down of the Iraq occupation; the huge increase in drone strikes in Pakistan and Afghanistan, killing hundreds of civilians and terrorizing whole regions; the total failure of the Obama administration to end U.S. client state Israel’s illegal settlements on the West Bank and indeed a general deterioration in high-level U.S.-Israeli relations; various U.S. interventions during the “Arab Spring;” the U.S./NATO assault on Libya that destroyed that modern state, etc.? Hillary was a key player in all these events. It’s all in her record, for all to see.
We don’t really know what Trump foreign policy would look like. Some speculate that, given his characterization of U.S. involvements in Iraq, Syria and Libya (as “stupid,” “failures” etc.), Trump would be a “non-interventionist.” This is, I suppose, barely possible, although his calls for the mass expulsion of immigrants and the construction of a wall on the Mexican border and his boasts about building up the military, torturing terrorists, making “America great again” and placing “America first” all reek of neo-fascism. Given all this alongside his contempt for the conduct of Middle East wars (which he damns not on moral grounds but deplores as incompetent), Trump’s foreign policies are hardly predictable.
Clinton’s policies are in contrast highly predictable on the basis of her record and recent public pronouncements. (She has all but declared war on Syria, for example, and will continue to provocatively expand NATO while pressuring Europe to maintain unpopular and painful sanctions against Russia.) By this record I mean the record of “experience” touted by her supporters, and referred to by corporate media talking heads in their matter-of-fact way as though its substance were an unquestionable plus for Hillary.
“Well she does have the experience,” they say. She was First Lady, after all. (This unelected position and traditionally decorative role, fulfilled in varied ways by very different “ladies” is rarely touted as a qualification for high office. But the list of Clinton’s credentials usually begins with this, and as it happens, she was a very strong influence on her husband in every major move he made while president.)
She was a New York state senator, the hagiographers continue. Not that she introduced any significant new legislation. Her years as senator were mainly designed to give her credibility as a 2008 presidential candidate. They weren’t enough to clinch that for her, though, especially since she defended her war vote up to the end against the faux peace candidate Barack Obama.
The clincher: gracious in defeat, she became Secretary of State under Obama, showing what a good team player she could be, and providing (as Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice had done before her) an example of a “strong” woman in that position. What an impressive apprenticeship, the pundits declare, for the presidency!
The more it gets said, re-iterated by the likes of the golden-throated actor Morgan Freeman, the more it strikes the most impressionable as true. Rather like the oft-repeated claim that African-Americans in general love the Clintons because… well, because they just do. And forget about that Crime Bill of 1994 that has pushed more black youth into prison than were in slavery in 1860.
But her very experience recommends her to another, far smaller, community: the warmongers, from the neoconservatives of the Cheney-Wolfowitz-McCain ilk to the “liberal interventionists” like pundits Paul Krugman, Thomas Friedman, and Fareed Zakaria and Clinton advisors Sidney Blumenthal and Anne-Marie Slaughter. These are people who rarely encounter a war they don’t like.
To the uninformed, Hillary is best-known for her advocacy of a national health care system, her assertion that it takes a village to raise a child, and of course her championing of women’s empowerment (to be realized through her own election as president). The world knows her better for her passion for bombing.
That she is the hawks’ hawk is the Clinton campaign’s dirty little secret and potential Achilles’ heel. Behind the mother-like affectations is a calculating, enthusiastic agent of imperialism. That latter face is easy to expose, to any who want to do so. Let me try to now.
Hillary’s Foreign Policy Resume: The First Lady Years
This passion (for bombing) of Hillary’s appeared in adolescence, when she volunteered at age 17 as a “Goldwater Girl” to aid the presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater in 1964. The Republican senator from Arizona had suggested the French should have used nuclear weapons against the Vietnamese at Dienbienphu and that U.S. commanders in Vietnam and Europe be given the authority to use tactical nuclear weapons without presidential approval.
“I liked Senator Goldwater,” she explained in her book Living History (2003), “because he was a rugged individualist who swam against the political tide.” (By the way, she was paid $ 8 million to produce that book—ghost-written, actually, by three others—and this payment was thought by some in the Senate to be a violation of Senate ethical standards. But in February 2001 the Senate Ethics Committee approved the deal.)
Four years later (at age 21) Hillary had shifted allegiance to Eugene McCarthy, the antiwar candidate of the Democratic Party. Her party loyalty was apparently strengthened when she met Bill Clinton two years later at Yale. But she was never a peacenik. On the contrary.
Mark Landler in the New York Times Magazine reports that in 1975—at age 27, the year she married Bill—Hillary visited a Marine recruiting station in Arkansas to inquire about joining the active forces or reserves as a lawyer.
You have to wonder why—just after the “fall” of Saigon (spring 1975), sealing the triumph of the North Vietnamese and the National Liberation Front and marking a huge geopolitical defeat for the U.S.—when mass awareness of U.S. atrocities in Southeast Asia was quite high after the My Lai revelations (1969), when mistrust for authority prevailed among the youth after the invasion of Cambodia (1970) and the publication of the Pentagon Papers detailing the mendacity surrounding the Vietnam War (1971), Watergate and the fall of Nixon—young Hillary wanted to join the Marines.
Was she incensed that the communists had won in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia? Where did she suppose the next battlefield would be? There was some talk in Congress about deploying forces to fight the communist guerrillas coming to power in the former Portuguese colonies in Africa, Angola and Mozambique.
Anyway she was turned away, as too old and unfit. As she told military women at a Capitol Hill lunch in 1994, “I decided, maybe I’ll look for another way to serve my country.”
That desire for intimacy with the military apparently persists. The New York Times cites an Army commander who relates how years later when Clinton was senator she visited his post in New York State. “She sat down, took her shoes off, put her feet up on the coffee table and said, ‘General, do you know where a gal can get a cold beer around here?’?”
Lander adds that “Clinton quickly took a liking” to retired Army general and resident Fox News hawk Jack Keane, “because ‘She loves that Irish gruff thing’…. One of her former aides explained, ‘She likes the nail-eaters’—people like Keane, Stanley McChrystal, and David Petraeus—‘Real military guys, not these retired three-stars who go into civilian jobs.’”
Hillary as secretary of state immediately impressed Secretary of Defense, Bush/Cheney holdover Robert Gates. “I thought, this is a tough lady,” he told Lander.
Hillary’s hawkishness was already clear during her stint as Bill Clinton’s “First Lady” from January 1993 to January 2000. Hillary was not your typical First Lady, embracing an uncontroversial cause and centering her public appearances around it. (She did famously advocate for health system reform, failing in her efforts.) She was Bill’s principal advisor, and quite likely the more bellicose of the pair.
The belligerency was directed principally against vulnerable, crisis-ridden Russia. Clinton came to office just thirteen months after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and eighteen months after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact. (Recall that the latter had been formed in 1956 to counter NATO, which had been formed seven years earlier as an anti-Soviet military alliance and just expanded to include West Germany.)
NATO had never been deployed in war. (In retrospect Europe during the Cold War seems remarkably peaceful and stable.) When the Clintons came to office, Russia was governed by President Boris Yeltsin—an alcoholic buffoon perhaps best known for ordering the army in 1993 to bombard the Duma building after the parliament rejected his unconstitutional order for it to dissolve. Until he stepped down at the end of 1999, Yeltsin presided over a period of precipitous economic decline, general misery and military weakness. The Clintons exploited this.
As the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Clinton’s predecessor George H. W. Bush had told Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev that in exchange for the USSR’s acceptance of German reunification as a NATO member state, NATO would not expand “one inch” further east. When the Warsaw Pact dissolved it was expected that NATO, now irrelevant, would follow suit.
Instead, 1990 NATO redefined itself. In its London Declaration in July the alliance noted that the Soviet threat had receded but that “regional instability” now “posed new threats to regional peace.” In other words, NATO would now be Europe’s policeman. The Clintons were fully on board this new program. Why not, in the changed circumstances, use NATO to project U.S. power more broadly throughout the once divided continent?
The fall of the Soviet Union had produced ethnic tensions and bloody secessionist movements in Georgia, Azerbaijan, Chechnya, Dagestan and elsewhere. Secessionism also swept eastern Europe; Czechoslovakia would eventually split into its component parts. In Yugoslavia, led by an ostensibly Marxist-Leninist party but neutral all during the Cold War, relatively prosperous and friendly with the U.S., the fabric of the pan-Slavic union was being torn apart.
The Yugoslav republics of Slovenia, Croatia, and Macedonia had declared their independence in 1991, and what is now Bosnia-Herzegovina fell into a state of civil war between Croatians, Serbians and Bosniaks.
Sharing a common language (Serbo-Croatian) and Slavic ethnicity, these communities were divided by religion. Long dormant ethnic tensions suddenly flared; there were (exaggerated) charges of genocide, with Bosnian Serbs especially accused to massacring Bosniaks and confining them to concentration camps. Various options for international response were available.
But Clinton insisted on dispatching NATO air forces to pound Serbian positions in Bosnia, resulting in a ceasefire followed by the U.S.-dictated “Dayton Agreement” of November 1995. This produced the utterly dysfunctional state of Bosnia-Herzegovina, divided into Bosniak, Croatian and Serbian states. For a time the U.S. stationed forces at Tuzla Air Base in Bosnia.
Following this first time display of its regional police power, NATO expanded on March 12, 1999 to include Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. (Ironically, the Soviet-backed leaders of these countries in 1956 had been most supportive of the idea of an anti-NATO fact, fearing as they did a remilitarized West Germany.) NATO had expanded much more than one inch, and Russia was understandably upset. Twelve days after this NATO planes were again bombing Yugoslavia—at Hillary’s urging, as we will see.Wait, before you go…
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